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New Jersey towns could be liable in wrongful death lawsuits

Two New Jersey towns -- Pilesgrove Township and Woodstown -- may be held liable for a woman's August 2011 drowning after they opened the floodgates of Veterans Memorial Lake Dam as Hurricane Irene loomed, a federal judge ruled.

The victim's home had lost power and the 20-year-old-woman was attempting to evacuate when she drowned in floodwaters that covered the road on which she was driving. Millions of gallons of water rushed into the Salem River from the dam, effectively covering roadways and bridges, including Route 40, where the victim was driving.

Although residents received warnings that the floodgates would be opened, the lawsuit alleges that authorities failed to close or block off roadways, alerting drivers to the dangers.

The victim's mother and her lawyer argued in court that failing to close the road was the direct cause of the victim's death. They claim that opening the floodgates created a dangerous situation and then authorities failed to close the road to protect her. A judge agreed and ruled there was a direct link between the victim's drowning and the floodgates opening.

The ruling also allows the victim's mother to pursue legal action against the Woodstown Police Department. However, the judge dismissed claims against state defendants, including the state of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Police, Salem County and the Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Dam Safety and Flood Control.

The judge also dismissed state-law tort claims for wrongful death, survival, negligence and vicarious and strict liability. The victim's mother and her lawyer did not object to these dismissals.

If a loved one has suffered a fatal accident and you suspect that someone else's negligence is to blame, legal action may be an option. In this case, lawyers will be trying to prove that the cities of Woodstown and Pilesgrove Township were negligent in protecting its citizens.

Source: CourthouseNews.com, "Hurricane Drowning Could Leave Towns Liable" Rose Bouboushian, Mar. 24, 2014

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